Keeping parks feces-free
At Virginia Lake Park in Reno, a plastic-bag dispenser holds an important message, hand-painted in friendly blues and greens: “Attention Dog Owners: Please pick up after your dog. Thank you!” Below, the message is translated into dog-speak: “Attention Dogs: Grrr, Bark, Woof, Woof. Good Dog!”
Jeff Biales, the artist and creator of the dispenser, hopes that the message will make dog-walkers smile. He also hopes that it will draw needed attention to what he believes is a real problem in our community —dog poop, and owners who don’t pick it up.
The issue may sound silly, but there are many reasons why dog waste in city parks is no joke. First, there’s the ick-factor—who likes scraping dog poop from their shoes? Second, there are health and sanitation issues. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, dog feces harbor bacteria, parasites and diseases that can be spread to humans, such as Campylobacteriosis, dog tapeworm, dog hookworm, Echinococcosis, E. coli, Giardia, Leptospirosis and Salmonella. Third, there are water quality concerns to consider, especially when feces is abandoned in close proximity to bodies of water such as Virginia Lake where contamination can occur.
Although Biales isn’t a dog owner himself, he lives close to Virginia Lake and has taken a personal interest in the problem. He regularly walks around the lake picking up trash and dog waste, and last fall, he worked with Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful to organize a volunteer park cleanup.
“One of the problems that we identified prior to [the cleanup] was that there were a couple little doggie bag holders that the city had put up a while back, and they don’t maintain them anymore,” Biales said. “They were always empty. So I committed to making four new, bright, colorful doggie bag holders with clean bags. And we put those up around the park.”
Biales’ dispensers were made with materials donated by Western Nevada Supply and Reno Paint Mart, each hand-painted with a unique design and message, and each sponsored by a different neighborhood dog. He and other volunteers keep the dispensers stocked with leftover plastic bags from their homes. “That was a good start, but it still hasn’t solved the problem,” Biales said.
Nate Daniels from the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation sees dog waste on the ground in every park that he visits, and believes that part of the problem is that Reno’s city parks department can no longer afford to keep plastic bag stations filled, due to budget cuts and low staffing levels.
“A lot of people get to a trailhead and don’t have a bag, so when their dog does go to the bathroom on the trail, they aren’t prepared to deal with it,” Daniels said.
Another large part of the problem, according to Daniels, lies in public education. Through a new partnership with Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, Daniels and TMPF hope to address the issue of dog waste via a public awareness campaign, handing out free bags and educational materials at community events. Though this program is still in the planning phases, TMPF and KTMB are seeking volunteers and donors who would like to get involved.
“It’s a problem community-wide. And the best way to combat that problem is education, so that’s what we’re trying to do this year,” Daniels said.